Anita stared at the exam paper in disgust. An essay on “Spring”? That was year 7 stuff! Huh! But she desperately wanted to pass this exam. She had not done very well at school, and really wanted to increase her qualifications in order to get a better job. If any jobs were forthcoming, that is.
She thought for a few openings. “It was the first day of Spring and the sleet hustled past the window driven by the cold north wind”? No, that was true, but a bit gloomy. Had to get the examiner in a good mood. “Already the crocuses had been pecked to death by the sparrows”? No, true again, but too glum. “The feathery fronds of the silver birch were touched with green”? No, poetic, but a bit twee. Anita didn’t do twee.
Then, an electric light bulb moment! “Spring” didn’t necessarily mean the season. Could be a coiled spring, or a water spring. She suddenly remembered a holiday in Northumberland with her husband, many years ago, before the babies started coming, when they had found a lifesaving spring.
It had been an unusually hot summer, but up in the hills the wind was fresh, but hot, straight from the Sahara. John had climbed up on some rocks to get a better viewpoint for a photograph, when the wind whipped off his sunhat, and blown it merrily northwards. They had laughed, and continued on their way, but there was no shade, and gradually Anita became aware that John was not at all well. He had stopped perspiring, and was beginning to talk nonsense. She got worried, and turned them both down a track which she hoped led to a small group of trees at the head of a valley.
They made it down, Anita encouraging John to keep going, and in the shade of the trees, she lay him down in the shade, and began fanning him with the map. They were out of the wind among the trees, and it was very quiet. Then she heard the sound of running water! She stood up and looked around, walking towards the sound. Just past a big yew tree she found the source of the noise. A tiny spring, issuing from between the rocks, and falling into a pool, before running down the valley. Anita bent down and felt the water. It was icy cold, and felt marvellous on her wrists. She ran back to John, and taking an enamel mug from their rucksack, went back to the spring, filled it and took it back to John. He took a sip, and she poured the rest of the water over his head. Then she had managed to get him up and down to the spring and the pool, where she took off his t-shirt and soaking it in the little pool, wrapped it round his neck and back.
Gradually John had recovered, and Anita explored the valley a little. She could see it led down to a village, just a couple of farms, a few houses and what looked as though it might be a pub. And drinks. She turned towards the spring, and cupped her hands under the falling water, took a long drink. She stared at the source of the water. Those rocks looked as though they had been arranged around the water. Probably the source of the water for the village. Inside a squarish niche there was a sort of statue, with some lettering underneath. Moss and lichens had obliterated most of it, but looking hard, she could make out the shape of a person, maybe in a robe, and when she rubbed the moss away, she could see an S and then AE w? ld. Maybe it was an Anglo Saxon Saint. When they got down to the village, she would ask.
They had set off down the track, through yew trees, juniper bushes, and gradually, oaks, mountain ash and hornbeam. Down in the village, they found the Sheep Inn, and thankfully ordered cold beers, and ham sandwiches. It was very quiet there, and Anita got talking to the man behind the bar, who she thought was probably the owner.
“Oh, you found our spring, then?” he said when Anita had enquired about it. “That was the source of water for the village. Women used to walk up there, and fill their cans, bring them back and keep them in the cool. Wonderful stuff, that water”
“Has it got a name?” she asked, “I thought I saw a sort of statue there.”
“Oh yes, that’s St. AEthelfryd, apparently she had escaped from some raiders from north of here, and exhausted, sat down beside a yew tree. She was crying, and her tears opened up this spring and its never stopped running since. Well, that’s the tale. But every June, the women take flowers up there, remembering her special day. Who’s to say what is right or wrong. It’s a long time ago,” and he laughed.
Anita thought it could well be true, not the girl’s tears, but finding a hidden spring. And weren’t yew trees associated with the Druids? Did they have Druids in Northumberland?
After their lunch, and with John feeling a lot better, they visited the church on their way towards home. The church was obviously very old, and from the leaflet there they learned it was Norman, built on the site of a Saxon church, and that there was a tiny window that was the original Saxon. The church was now dedicated to St. Abigail, which might or might not be a later adaption of AEthelfryd.
Remembering all this, Anita had started writing, forming the remembrances into what she hoped was a polished piece. Satisfied, she put her pen down, and dragged herself back into the 21st century. It was a long time ago, and she was surprised she had remembered it all so clearly. She and John were a great deal older now, and had three teenage children, who thought it was hilarious that their mother was sitting the same examinations as they would be taking later.
Anita didn’t care. She wanted to get on, now the children were growing up. And if writing about Spring was the way to do it, write she would.
Much, much later, she found she had got a very high mark in the English examination, and grinning, she had told the children they had better work harder if they wanted to beat her!